The 5 Most Promising Careers in Sports (With Tips for Success)
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- The sports industry is a booming business that generates billions of dollars each year.
- Many sports-related careers offer high salaries and long-term job security.
- Popular careers in sports include athletic director, trainer, and sports data analyst.
- A well-rounded education, a strong character, and networking are key to a successful career.
Sports is big business. In 2021, the global sports market was valued at over $440 billion. And by 2025, the market is projected to reach nearly $600 billion.
This figure — which accounts for gate revenue, media rights, sponsorships, and merchandising sales — doesn't even consider other industries that profit from sports, such as healthcare and education.
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Growth in areas like sports science, fantasy sports, women's sports, legalized sports betting, youth club leagues, esports, and general concerns about health and fitness are all expected to contribute to this industry's continuing financial success.
Whether you're an athlete or just passionate about sports, a career involving sports could be a great fit. In this realm, you'll find professional opportunities in fields such as sports management, marketing, journalism, coaching, product development, sports gaming, and sports law.
Top 5 Jobs in the Sports Industry in 2022
Below are five of the best sports-related careers you can pursue right now. All jobs are poised for growth in the coming years.
1. Exercise Physiologist
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 13%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $50,280
- Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree in exercise science or kinesiology; certification may be required
Exercise physiologists study the body's reactions to exercise and physical exertion to improve patients' overall fitness levels.
Physiologists work with athletes to create exercise programs to enhance strength, speed, flexibility, and endurance. Their work can also help athletes with injury prevention and recovery.
Additionally, exercise physiologists may work with patients with disabilities and other chronic conditions, such as heart and lung disease. Physiologists develop exercise programs designed to meet specific rehabilitation goals, like improving cardiovascular function.
2. Athletic Trainer
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 23%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $49,860
- Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree in a fitness- or science-related field; master's degree and certification/licensure may be required
Athletic trainers diagnose, treat, and help prevent sports-related injuries, which may occur during training sessions, practices, games, and other physical events and activities. They're usually the first medical professionals to render aid when a sports injury occurs.
As licensed health professionals, athletic trainers have extensive knowledge of sports medicine. Typical responsibilities include attending sports games and practices, educating athletes on injuries and injury prevention, facilitating rehabilitation, conducting emergency care and on-field injury assessments, and administering medication.
3. Coach or Scout
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 26%
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $36,330
- Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree in sports medicine, kinesiology, physical education, or a related field; certification/licensure may be required
Sports coaches teach athletes the skills and rules of a sport, train them to compete, and help develop their growth. Other duties include coming up with gameplay strategies, organizing practices, and making game-time decisions.
Coaching careers are available at every age and level, including youth sports, school sports, private clubs, college teams, national leagues, and professional sports.
Many coaches also recruit players and scout competitors. Scouts attend athletic competitions to observe players and consider their recruitment to a specific team, university, organization, or club. They must be able to assess a player's current skill level, their potential for growth, and their fit with the organization for which they're scouting.
4. Athletic Director
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 8% (postsecondary education administrators)
- Average Annual Salary (February 2022): $61,580
- Education Requirements: Master's degree, usually in a sports-related field
Athletic directors are responsible for overseeing athletic departments at middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities, and other organizations with sports programs.
As a director, you can expect to hire coaches and staff, manage revenue and expenditures, oversee athletic program marketing, plan game schedules, and ensure the entire sports program operates safely.
It takes a strong and experienced leader with knowledge in education, sports management, and business administration to be successful in this position.
5. Sports Data Analyst or Statistician
- Job Growth Rate (2020-30): 35% (statisticians)
- Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $92,270 (statisticians)
- Education Requirements: Master's degree in mathematics or statistics
If you want to be part of the sports world's statistical revolution, consider becoming a sports data analyst or statistician. Data is used in all types of industries to improve outcomes through predictive analytics.
Analytics has been around for some time in the sports world, particularly in major league baseball. But only within the last decade or so has the practice of using sophisticated analytics to scout players, predict game outcomes, improve game attendance, keep players healthy, and improve player performance evolved into a real science.
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3 Essential Tips for Pursuing a Career in Sports
The sports industry is notoriously competitive, making it difficult to navigate. We spoke with real sports professionals and professors for advice on pursuing a sports career. Here are their biggest tips.
Tip 1: Consider Getting a Master's Degree
Pursuing a master's degree can offer many benefits for a career in sports. In general, a master's degree can lead to higher salary potential, faster promotions, and increased expertise.
"Even for those with undergraduate degrees in sport management, a master's can set you apart in an extremely competitive employment market and teach you advanced skills like research, data collection and analytics, professional publication and presentation, and networking," said Windy Dees, Ph.D., graduate program director and professor at the University of Miami (UM).
A master's degree can help you gain specialized knowledge in the sports industry, especially if you completed an unrelated bachelor's degree or wish to pursue a specific career in sports.
Erin McNary, Ph.D., an assistant professor in sport administration at the University of Miami, told us about some of the specific courses offered at UM.
"Core courses focus on several key areas specific to sport like marketing, sponsorship, finance, ethics, law, facility and event management, leadership, communication, and current event issues," she said.
McNary also mentioned some specialized electives that can help students study topics in their target niche. These include esports, sports gaming, globalization of sport, and club sport management.
"As a former professional athlete, you are sometimes pigeon-holed into certain domains, such as coaching or broadcasting," said Leslie Fitzpatrick, executive director with the New River United Soccer Association. Fitzpatrick holds an MS in education in sport administration.
When paired with his economics undergraduate degree, he felt that a master's would make him a more competitive candidate and give him more agency to dictate his career in sports.
Sports-related graduate programs encourage students to step into the industry by networking with alumni and peers, attending sports-related events and conferences, and completing internships.
Tip 2: Network Throughout Your Career
All the professionals we spoke to mentioned the importance of networking in the sports industry.
"Start early with building relationships with trustworthy people who have worked in the industry," advised McNary. "This means reaching out to guest speakers in classes, messaging people using a desired social media tool (whether that be LinkedIn or Twitter), and setting up informational interviews."
Similarly, Fitzpatrick recommended developing relationships with potential mentors, like professors, alumni, and internship connections.
"Do not be afraid to reach out to them, pick their brains, and keep them up to date with your own career developments," said Fitzpatrick. "Maintaining these relationships are important as you never know when, where, or how an opportunity may arise."
You can also begin networking with your fellow students — after all, they may eventually be your co-workers. Developing connections throughout your professional journey can lead to a positive reputation in the sports community in addition to new opportunities.
Tip 3: Demonstrate Strong Character
The sports industry reflects the sports and events it's built upon. Beyond their skill, a great athlete is often valued for their character — and the same is true for sports professionals.
"This is an industry where work ethic and passion are key. Just because a person might like sports doesn't necessarily mean they are suited to work in the sport industry," said McNary. "My most successful students share a set of traits and skills: a strong work ethic, positivity, a willingness to continue learning, and being a good, kind person."
McNary also listed adaptability, confidence, and a positive attitude as keys to success in a sports career.
Dees echoed this sentiment with a list of her own qualities for aspiring sports professionals: "extremely hard work, a team-oriented spirit, positivity, adaptation, innovation, and motivation."
In every opportunity you have, working hard, demonstrating a strong character, and showcasing soft skills can leave a positive impression on co-workers and sports industry leaders.
With Advice From:
Windy Dees, Ph.D.
Windy Dees joined the sport administration faculty at the University of Miami in August 2010. She graduated from Texas A&M University, where she earned a doctorate in sport management in 2007. Dees received a master's in sport management from the University of Florida and a bachelor's in psychology and communications from Rollins College. Prior to obtaining her Ph.D., Dees worked as an account executive for Synergy Sports Marketing.
Dees has research specializations in sports marketing and sponsorship, and she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on these topics at UM. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of corporate partnerships and how sponsors and properties execute successful sport marketing strategies. Her research has also examined brand awareness and brand personality, consumer attitudes, image enhancement, and purchase behavior.
Dees currently serves as the sport administration graduate program director at the University of Miami and an executive board member of the Sport Marketing Association.
Erin McNary, Ph.D.
Erin McNary joined the University of Miami's faculty in August 2017. Previously, she worked at two universities in St. Louis, Missouri, where she taught sport administration courses. She was also a full-time faculty member in the sport marketing and management program at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she received her doctorate.
McNary has several years of experience in campus recreation at Arizona State University and the University of Texas-San Antonio, as well as five years of experience working for a national physical activity and fitness awards program.
McNary currently teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in sport facility and event management, as well as globalization of sport. She focuses on cultivating community partnerships and bringing experience and insights to her students. She is also the Global Sport Industry Conference director (see miamisportconference.com).
Her research examines sport management pedagogy, ethics in youth sport communication, and marketing and the promotion of youth and marginalized athletes.
Leslie Fitzpatrick is an experienced executive director with a demonstrated history of working in the sports industry. In addition to having an extensive coaching background and a USSF A-Licence, he is skilled in international business, finance, and marketing.
A retired professional soccer player, Fitzpatrick holds a BA in economics and political science from Columbia University and an MS in sport administration and management from the University of Miami. He is a meticulous leader who is excellent at juggling multiple tasks and working under pressure.